Most of us watched from a distance, through a television screen, as a terrorist attack turned the 2013 Boston Marathon into tragedy. Taking us back to that incident and its immediate aftermath, Patriots Day puts viewers in the middle of the chaos.
The latest collaboration between actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon) is another slick and straightforward docudrama based on real events that generates enough suspense and emotional resonance to overcome its heavy-handed embellishments.
Wahlberg plays a hot-headed but passionate police sergeant assigned to work near the finish line of the marathon, in the middle of thousands of spectators and athletes. He’s front and center when two explosives kill three people and wound numerous others, when the FBI arrives to launch a terrorism probe, and when various law enforcement agencies zero in on the suspects.
The film uses speculation and dramatic license to fill in some of the narrative gaps, although it captures the pandemonium surrounding the blasts and the ensuing uncertainty with gritty authenticity. Likewise, it convincingly portrays the intricacies of the local and federal investigation, the public anger and paranoia, the cultural and religious implications, and the determined search for the killers and motives.
Less than four years after the attack, is it too soon? The people of Boston might think so — especially with the film’s depiction of local locations and newsmakers — although its attempt to heal any residual wounds includes a salute to the resilience and camaraderie among the city’s working-class citizenry, and an obligatory tribute to the bravery of its first responders.
On a dramatic level, maybe not enough time has passed, given the familiarity and freshness of the incident in an age when 24-hour news cycles and social media already give us access to even the most intimate details of a case such as this.
Despite the inherent predictability of the material, however, Berg and his screenwriting team dig beneath the headlines. The film’s stylish mix of hand-held cameras and surveillance footage create tension during the mayhem surrounding the attack, as well as in the extended depiction of the climactic manhunt.
Patriots Day wears its heart on its proverbial sleeve, for better and worse, and as a result, tends to feel exhilarating one minute and shamelessly manipulative the next. Yet as a mostly even-handed chronicle of recent history, the film rises to the occasion.
Rated R, 133 minutes.